Bulldogs Wrap Up Two-A-Days

The Bulldogs were kept on the practice fields a quarter-hour longer than planned Monday afternoon. Not to practice, but for a series of ‘up/downs' assessed to the offensive and defensive units, respectively, as penalties for what the coaches called ‘loafs' observed in Saturday's scrimmage.

"It's something we'll do after a game," Croom explained. "For every ‘loaf' the entire unit will do it. We may not be perfect players but we can get perfect effort."

But if the players were delayed in getting back to the locker room, it was their head coach who talked about the need for additional forebearance as Mississippi State wrapped up two-a-day practices. "Right now I think the Good Lord is testing me more than I'm testing them," Croom said. "Testing my patience, testing my faith, testing my ability to coach them."

Yet Croom related this with no rancor. Nor did he blister the weary Bulldogs in a post-practice huddle. Instead the coach made the situation clear to team and staff, that he expects nothing less than everyone's best effort over the second half of August training camp.

And, the 100% standard applies to the head dog, too. "Hey, I'm going to pass the test. The kids are good, they're going to be fine. I've just got to check myself more than anybody else. This is part of the process, the next step in the development of our program."

If it sounds as though Croom was taking a lower-key approach to post-practice commentary, it is probably because after 13 sessions (three of them two-a-day drills) the Bulldogs needed to be handled with a bit more care by Monday afternoon. "We've got a lot of guys injured," Croom said. That's no casual observation: at least 15 players were either unable to practice at all Monday afternoon, or limited to section drills only. And as any regular practice-report reader knows, the casualty rate has been highest on the offensive line in general and at tackle in particular.

The morning session began with a near-total revamping of the #1 blockers, with Brian Anderson swapping from left to right tackle; Johnny Wadley from left to right guard; and true freshmen Michael Gates and Anthony Dunning promoted to left tackle and guard respectively, with only center Chris McNeil at his usual position.

But Dunning (shoulder) and Gates (ankle) aggravated previous injuries and did not make it through the morning, nor were they able to return to afternoon work. Thus a third different grouping got to wear first-team Maroon in Monday's second session. Anderson went back to his original left tackle spot while Wadley and McNeil stayed put. The P.M. changes saw freshman Johnny Carpenter promoted at left guard; and senior Avery House resuming the #1 spot at right tackle he had the first week of camp.

The second line initially was, left to right, Chris Spencer, Anthony Strauder, Royce Blackledge, Dio Herrera, and Roland Terry. Herrera had alternated between #3 center and backup guard; then by the end of Monday afternoon he was up to working with the first team at left guard, as midway of the session Strauder was put in a red-cross shirt for no noted reason. Walk-on Daniel Kennedy went through drills as reserve LG. Strauder was #1 at the spot for ten days, then demoted only this morning. He ended Monday's work doing conditioning drills on the side (as did Terry), but did spend a good bit of post-practice time chatting with line coach J.B. Grimes who seemed to be encouraging the redshirt freshman. And to his credit Strauder did not slack off in the penalty work.

Besides Gates, other linemen unable to practice even in non-contact work were freshman tackles Calvin Wilson (knee) and Craig Jenkins (knee), and junior tackle James Redmond. Croom updated Jenkins' situation, as the rookie tore a meniscus membrane in the knee on a scrimmage play and is out for three weeks. "That shorthands the line even more. That's four guys we thought were going to be our tackles that are out right now."

Fullback Bryson Davis was held out with a groin pull, and freshman Brandon Hart was on the exercise bike while resting a bruised shoulder, the result of a scrimmage hit. Safety Mario Bobo took the whole day off after being shaken up in a last-play collision Saturday. Other Dogs either in red-cross or yellow jersies included halfback Jerious Norwood (knee strain), H-back Dezmond Sherrod (hip flexor), flanker Will Prosser (foot), fullback Casey Rogers (ankle), wideout Tay Bowser (hamstring), wideout Keon Humphries (knee), and linebacker Gabe O'Neal (knee). After this session Croom had two interesting observations. Save for O'Neal and Bobo all the injured are offensive players; and of those, most are the newest pups in the pound. "I was trying to figure out why it's all on offense, then it dawned on me, I guess I'm not too bright about it. All of them are new guys, because that's where the new guys are playing, on offense."

Croom admits that a great deal is being asked of the youngsters. He wishes it weren't necessary, but here in 2005 there is no alternative. And inevitably all the freshmen will struggle to some degree. "To be honest they're not up to the challenge right now, mentally or physically for the wear-and-tear of the way we do things. I was trying to figure why nobody on defense was hurting, all of them have played before! The only new guy they've got over there is a junior college guy.

"But that's the situation we're in, we're in the process of building a program and there's no shortcuts to it. They've got to grow up in a hurry. Our freshman class is a good one, they're going to be good players. We're having to throw them in the water to see if they sink or swim and as coaches we have to make sure they float for a little while, anyway. But they've got to be ready to go, ready to play. Particularly in the offensive line. If they don't get well it's pretty tough to come up with five that can compete."

The defense has more depth to work with, and with Bobo out Monday redshirt De'Mon Glanton got to wear first-team white for the first time. O'Neal has not hit all camp with Anthony Littlejohn taking his outside linebacker role. While the starting lineup is essentially already set, players such as DT Antonio Johnson and DE Titus Brown are co-#1s and rookie cornerbacks Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh get almost as many snaps as starters Kevin Dockery and David Heard.

Thus the intensity of work on the offensive side, which the scrimmage showed has much farther to go to be SEC-competitive. Monday, Croom saw a couple of good signs at skill positions. Humphries did not hit again but was productive in no-contact plays. "But we can't over-stress him right now." With Norwood out of practice for now, and of real contact until September, other runners are being camp-stressed. "Demarcus Johnson had a better day, but it's being able to do it on a consistent basis," Croom said.

"Brandon Hart ran the ball hard the first time he played halfback the other day, he showed some running skills. Jonathan Lowe is our second guy, I think we can compete and have a chance to win with he and Norwood. Beyond that, the other guys are very inconsistent."

#1 quarterback Omarr Conner has been consistent in his job. And on Monday backup Mike Henig looked far sharper than he had in the scrimmage. They were the only passers getting any serious team work this day.

For that matter, the second half of camp will focus increasingly on developing the players who have established themselves in the first and second teams. And here the number of new players in the mix will affect how much the State staff can get done. "We're still going to install the things we planned on installing," Croom said, "ut after this week's scrimmage we'll definitely have to cut down and get ready to go. This is probably going to force us to reduce again what we do offensively so the young kids can play, because there's no way we can be able to run as much as we really need to."

It's an interesting situation for Croom, who wants to push the process to the preseason limit…yet has to remind himself at the same time that some things cannot be rushed. But as he says, "nobody is going to feel sorry for us.

"Once they learn how to play they're going to be good players. I've got to constantly remind myself where we are right now and be patient."

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